A career-based move abroad has never been easier, in theory, although in practice there are many important factors that need to be considered. With increased globalisation, digitalisation, ease of travel and better linguistic capabilities, the modern world is now more equipped than ever to enable the relocation.
Having moved abroad myself three years ago from London to Singapore, I know all too well the advantages and disadvantages of taking your career (and life) to the other side of the world. There are a plethora of personal and professional reasons why I looked to do this, and many things that you really only discover once you’ve made the move.
Everyone has their reasons. Having lived and worked in London my whole life, gone through the largest white-collar recession in recent history, and having never really seen much of the wider world (especially Asia) all signs pointed towards a life changing move. I am fortunate to work in a people business, and luckily for me people are everywhere, so from a career perspective I had options. I’m also unashamed to admit that my move was heavily financially motivated, and having paid 40-50% tax in the UK, moving to an environment where I was paying 5-15% tax sweetened the deal no end.
I left London without any real ties. This made the move a lot easier, and meant I could effectively go where I wanted. Career opportunity aside, if you do have a spouse and children, you have other people to think about and it comes with a certain set of associated challenges. I can only really comment on the Singapore and Hong Kong markets, but it is important to note that if you do have children, finding good schooling is difficult, and extremely expensive. Housing can also be expensive depending on where you live, and couple this with the rapid disappearance of ‘expat packages’ (they really don’t exist anymore here), the move can be costly and chip away at some of the potential tax advantages. That being said, I don’t know many people in this part of the world who are worse off financially – family or no family, even with the additional costs of living attached.
There are certainly career advantages to moving out here, particularly into accountancy, finance and strategy roles in insurance as the sector continues to grow. Whilst it is slightly harder as an expatriate to get into Singapore and Hong Kong now given the growing demand for local talent, if you are able to do so you will get exposure to certain aspects of the market that perhaps the Western world isn’t able to offer right now. Asia is certainly not considered to be embryonic anymore, however it is much less advanced than the UK, and with growth potential comes opportunity. You are able to contribute to the industry at an exciting time, and we are certainly seeing a number of our UK contacts shifting their focus out East.
I will further add that the experiences I have gained in my three years of being here have matured me, made me better at my job (I hope) and given me a new found appreciation and perspective of different cultures and the global economy; it turns out that the UK really isn’t the centre of the Universe! I’ll admit – the first 18 months professionally were hard as I needed to adapt to a different culture, a different way of working and a new market. Singapore and HK can be deceiving as well, as given the Colonial roots that still have an impact today, it can be easy to perceive that everything is the same – it is not. At all. There are some subtle differences (and some not-so-subtle differences) that add to the allure and charm of my newly adopted home. It took me a while to get completely used to the working cultures of Singapore and Hong Kong although having now adapted, life has never been better. I’ve grown as a person, I’ve grown as a professional and can hand on heart say I am a better recruiter now than I ever was in London (you might even find some clients who will agree with me…).
Yes, it may be expensive at first, you will certainly miss some home comforts, and you will find cultural challenges at work that you didn’t even know existed. However, if you move you will grow as a person and you will learn to appreciate the value that you can bring as an outsider in a foreign land. You may stay for good, you may go home at some stage, but whatever happens you will be a much better person for it.
Oh – and did I mention the weather in the UK is terrible?!
By Mei Ling Reddaway – Head of Marketing, High Finance Group